Roots of Empathy offers valuable lessons

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Grade 1 students at Noble Central School get acquainted with baby Maggie during the Roots of Empathy program.


To call it “child’s play” would be a disservice to the lessons the Roots of Empathy provides students in Palliser Regional Schools.

The classroom program features a local parent and infant visiting an elementary classroom every three weeks over the school year. The goal is to nurture more respectful and caring relationships in the students and reduce bullying and aggression.

Empathy is the ability to identify with another person’s feelings, and is central to competent parenting and successful social relationships in all stages of life.

The Roots of Empathy program aligns well with Palliser's safe and caring goals, says Director of Learning Shane Cranston, as it helps students proactively build a set of tools toward their social and emotional well-being.

“By developing empathy in younger students through the Roots of Empathy program, we are collaboratively supporting the development of these tools,” he says.

Now taught around the globe, the Roots of Empathy was introduced to Alberta, and Palliser Regional Schools, in 2002. Cranston says it has offered Palliser students a “wonderful opportunity” over the years and he looks forward to continued success in the future.

Barons-Eureka-Warner Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) has offered the program in 17 schools in four southern Alberta school districts over the years, and has reached a total of about 4,200 students. This past school year saw Roots of Empathy offered in four Palliser schools: Noble Central School in Nobleford; Dorothy Dalgliesh School in Picture Butte; Coalhurst Elementary School; and Sunnyside School, just east of Lethbridge.

A trained instructor coaches students to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings. By reflecting on their own feelings and the feelings of others, students are less likely to physically, psychologically and emotionally hurt each other through bullying and other cruelties.

Janice Vanden Broek says it was “priceless” to see the faces of Grade 1 Dorothy Dalgliesh students light up while playing with her baby, Caleb.

“I feel like the children ended the program with a deeper understanding of babies on both an emotional and a physical level,” she says. “Not every baby reacts or grows at the same pace, and that’s OK.”

A mother of a Grade 2 Sunnyside student recommends every child be involved in the Roots of Empathy after seeing the positive impact it had on her daughter’s self-esteem this past year. The young girl was in an orphanage until she was four, and mother and daughter often role play about appropriate interactions with others.

“They also do this, problem solving and working on communications, in the Roots of Empathy program, saying for example: ‘The baby is crying. What could she be trying to tell us?’ ”

 Teacher Jamilyn Seward wishes her Grade 1 class at Coalhurst Elementary could take part in the program every year after experiencing its value this past year.

“Not only does it teach students about child development, but it also teaches empathy,” she says. “I feel that by learning about empathy at an early age, it fosters positive relationships among students and family members, which in turn helps to create a loving and caring environment to learn and grow in.”

For more information on the Roots of Empathy Program go to

Images courtesy of Barons-Eureka-Warner FCSS.